Monday, June 12, 2017

There is nothing like a Dame

“As I learn more about the Royal Rosarians, I find it more difficult to take it seriously while at the same time becoming more in love with Portland.”

My friend Shannon shared these perfectly descriptive words just hours after we witnessed her mom, Lori, get knighted by the Royal Rosarian Queen of Rosaria. Specifically, Lori is now “Dame Lori of Rosaria, Dame of the Rose Gift of Grace.”

I’m working on my curtsy for the next time I see Lori. Oops, ‘cuse me… DAME Lori.

It’s all quite important, you know, this knighting stuff, even if you have no idea what I’m talking about. Quite honestly, I didn’t really know what was going on either, when Rob and I joined Lori’s family in a hotel ballroom on the east side of Portland last week for The 2017 Royal Rosarians Honorary Knighting Ceremony (cue trumpets). But it sounded terribly momentous and exceedingly bloggable so there was no way I was going to miss it.

The little bits that I DID know about this super duper foofa were disconnected nuggets of iconic Portlandness.

I knew there was this group of people called the Royal Rosarians. They wear cream-colored suits, straw hats like you might find at Shakey’s Pizza, white gloves like you might find at a tea party, red ties, and some of them top their cream suits with velvet capes of various colors (I’ve since learned the capes – and their color – designate various levels of status. Rosarians are all about status). These people and their distinctive outfits look very important and very fancy…if not a tad bit 1912. The Royal Rosarians are most prominent during Portland’s annual Big Time Event called the Rose Festival.

The yellow cape means this Royal Rosarian
is a former Prime Minister and is now
considered a Duke of the Realm.
Keep reading.  It gets even better.

The Rose Festival started over 100 years ago to honor and celebrate Portland’s self-proclamation as The Rose City (and to hopefully boost tourism). The Festival is a two-weeks long shindig of parades and visiting fleets and dragon boat races and a big carnival and fireworks along the waterfront. It’s held the first few weeks of June, which assures in true Portland style that at least one…if not all three…of the parades are celebrated in the rain.

The final parade is The Grand Floral Parade. Similar to the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, there are lots of floats featuring roses adhering to the rule that all material appearing on the float must be organic. So lots of flowers and grasses and seeds and such. And glue. Lots and lots of glue.

Because I’m friends with Lori and Shannon, I have had the honor of walking in the Grand Floral Parade a number of times in our 13 Junes here. It’s over 4 miles of people smiling, giggling, pointing, and shouting “LLAMAS!!” as we walk by. It’s a hoot and a half and I llove it.

So because I’ve been in the Grand Floral Parade a few times, I’ve come to understand that one of the key responsibilities of these cream-suited Royal Rosarians is to walk along with parade route with each entry, sort of like fancypants body guards (my knighting ceremony program uses the more elegant “escort” descriptor). I’ve heard whispers that getting to be the Rosarian that walks with the llamas is one of the more coveted assignments of the parade. Awww, shucks.

And that’s about all I knew. The Rosarians wear these old-timey cream suits, they guard the llamas as we walk in the Grand Floral Parade to make sure nobody breaks any “no touchy” rules, and they are sort of a big deal because, well, they are ROYAL.

We were all suitably impressed several months ago when we found out that Lori had been nominated to get knighted into the Royal Rosarian culture. Oh my gosh!

Lori has rightfully received a number of community service awards for her hard and dedicated work bringing llama llove to Portland area hospitals, senior centers, schools, and the occasional wedding (remember a couple months back when that story about llamas attending weddings went viral?? Yeah, those are Lori and Shannon’s animals.)

These pix were all. over. the. internet.
The weddings gig help fund the animal therapy non-profit.
The goal is to never have to charge even for gas when the
animals go out on therapy visits.
Shameless plug:  Make your tax-deductible donation HERE!

So Lori being recognized for her loving contribution to our community was no surprise, but, well, THE ROYAL ROSARIANS wanted to honor her?!? Yowza! Big Deal here in Portlandia, believe you me.

That brings us to last Friday morning. Several hundred of us were in our prescribed “Business Attire” sitting in banquet chairs waiting for something Really Important to happen. There were some television cameras, photographers, and reporters adding to the anticipation.

And then with great flourish and music, the Duke of the Realm welcomed us. A couple dozen Royal Rosarians entered the room and passed under a rose arch.

The annual hope is that this ceremony is held outside in
Portland's famed International Rose Test Garden.
But often it is in a rain-free hotel ballroom instead because Portland.

Then came the Candidates for Honorary Knighthood, and then the Rose Festival Court (15 young women vying to be the next Queen) and then the Queen of Rosaria escorted by the Prime Minister. The national anthems of both Canada (still not clear why?) and the United States were sung by a Lord High Chancellor and a Sir Knight.

Also listed in my program were people called the Royal Regent, the Lord High Sheriff (ummm…I know cannabis is now legal in Oregon but…), the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the treasurer – thanks, Google!), the Minister of Foreign Affairs (there was quite a contingent of guests from Portland’s sister city in Taiwan), the Lord High Chamberlain (no thanks to Google, I’m still confused), the Royal Scribe (secretary), and the Royal Gardener (well, they ARE all about roses after all).

Sensing a theme?

As the ceremony got underway, there was much pomp and even more circumstance. Hats were tipped in unison, heads were nodded in recognition at just the right time, titles were spoken with great reverence. The pace was slow and deliberate. There was not the slightest sense of urgency about, well, anything because pageantry takes time, people.

Somebody of some Rosarian status was walking by.

There was much talk about this place called the “Realm of Rosia” and all these middle-aged, mostly retired people in cream suits were quite proud to be among its fine citizens. They all deferred with great respect to The Queen of Rosaria – who either just finished her last year of high school or her first year of college. They eagerly eyed the 15 young women of the 2017 Royal Court who each hoped she would be named Queen the next morning just minutes before the start of the Grand Floral Parade. 15 young women who may or may not be old enough to vote in an election in our fair land.

Somewhere along the way, as the history and purpose of the Royal Rosarians was summarized (they started in 1912 as the official greeters and ambassadors of goodwill for the City of Portland), a very critical and clarifying word was oh-so-casually dropped: mythical.

You mean to say this whole thing is…make-believe?!?

Yep, it’s cosplay for the senior set. LARP without the foam swords. And yet, because of Lori, I was totally buying into it.

But wait.  There's more.

The knighting finally got underway. There were 42 Candidates for Honorary Knighthood. Each candidate selected a rose variety and was knighted as the ambassador of that rose. According to my handy program, each Honorary Knight (boys) and Dame (girls) pledged to:

“…observe the traditions of honor upheld by the Royal Rosarians – to aid in the cultivation and growth of the Roses assigned to them, to stand firm in the defense of righteousness and the flag of their country.”

Heavy responsibilities, those.

Lori’s knighting took about 30 seconds, not including the very kind introduction. As it should be with all knightings, Lori knelt before the Queen under the watchful eyes of the Prime Minister and the Royal Regent. The Queen said some fancy words and proclamations, used her scepter (of course there was a scepter!) to dub Lori’s shoulders and head, and then commanded Lori to “Arise” as a Dame.

Lori said this was actually a pretty cool albeit mythical experience

Lori was then handed a framed scripty scroll, a gold rose-themed medal was placed around her neck, and her Damehood was official and complete. Whoo hoo! Only 29 more knightings to go!

Lori and Shannon and the official
Certificate of Knighthood

As the candidates took their turns on the stage, it became clear that one of the big perks of being the Grand Poobah Prime Minister of the Realm of Rosaria is that you get to nominate your friends and favorite folks to be knighted. Several candidates were actually introduced as “the Prime Minister’s friend” and one was “the Prime Minister’s favorite music and choir teacher.”

There was a radio show host, the locomotive engineer from the Oregon Zoo, and a cowboy poet. The president of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses was knighted, as was the mayor of a city in South Korea. Several people from the US Navy and the US Coast Guard can now also add Knight or Dame to their titles, as can heads and first ladies of various regional flora festivals (strawberry, autumn leaf, lilac, daffodil, and apple blossom).

But most anticipated by many in attendance was the very last knighthood candidate.

He is so famous and so VIP that he stayed out of the room until it was his turn to be knighted, so as not to, you know, distract.

Finally, with all the appropriate fanfare and fight song accompaniment, the last Candidate for Honorary Knighthood burst into the ballroom, paws pumping and tail flapping.

Yes, the Prime Minister of the Mythical Realm of Rosaria is also a very proud Oregon State University Alumni. Thus the OSU mascot, Benny the Beaver is now and forever shall be known as Sir Benny the Beaver.

Only in Portland.

Can you tell by the smile which Rosarian is the Prime Minister?

Hard to know if the contingent from Taiwan was excited
or offended that their Deputy Speaker shares his
knighthood with an unusually large beaver
wearing a football uniform.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The heart of the matter

A friend asked me yesterday if my writing muse had been my dark brown hair.

Don noticed that I haven’t written anything in a long while (indeed, about 6 weeks it appears)…suspiciously corresponding to about the time my Garnier Truffle #50 was replaced by Father Time Silver and White (new profile pic coming soon).

While amusing, I was touched by his point. And that he noticed the absence of my ramblings. I had noticed, too, but I assumed I was the only one.

There has been non-hair stuff to write about the past month and a half. Quite a bit in fact. But I wasn’t sure how and then I wasn’t sure if. But Don’s loving nudge prompted sentences and phrases to start unfolding in my head last night; always my cue to head to the keyboard.

My mom had heart surgery a little less than three weeks ago. A valve replacement. I now have new appreciation and gratitude for pigs. I actually said a silent prayer of thanks for the one that gave its life so my mom could continue hers. Modern medicine is astounding.

Mom never had any history of heart issues, so this rather sudden need for a new valve was quite a shock. A murmur had been detected by an east coast doctor several years ago but it was only noted, never pursued. Then a doctor in my parents’ new home town in Idaho announced Mom had “quite a healthy heart murmur.” Tests eventually revealed he was using “healthy” in the strong and bold sense, not the you’re-not-sick sense.

It was crazy. Mom had no symptoms. Some test results suggested she should at least be utterly exhausted if not often short of breath. Her heart was working so very very hard and yet only machines gave any clues of its distress.

As schedules were determined and vacations cancelled and cat sitters arranged, there was absolutely no question that I would be heading to Idaho. The only question was for how long.

Depending how the surgeon accessed the heart, Mom’s recovery could be measured in long weeks (heart accessed by going in between her ribs) or in long months (heart accessed by breaking Mom’s sternum).

The rib route would be more painful short-term but traumatized muscle and tissue recover much faster than broken bone. We were all praying for the rib route. Nevertheless, I packed two weeks’ worth of clothes, including gear for snow as well as shorts and sandals. Late spring in Idaho is more fickle than a love-starved teenage girl. I wore everything I packed at least once.

Cutting to the punchline, Mom is doing fantastic. Like rock star amazing. The surgeon was able to take the rib route and there were no surprises or complications as far as he was concerned. Hallelujah.

Mom was in ICU for 5 days. Once at home, she had a nasty cough for about 5 more days and had some trouble sleeping. But that’s now all under control. She is already walking a cumulative 2 miles per day on her multiple walks; she wasn’t taking walks at all pre-surgery. She has her first follow-up appointment with her surgeon tomorrow. I fully expect a glowing report.

So that’s the nuts-and-bolts story of where I’ve been the past several weeks. The matter of facts, the mostly objective details.

But there’s another part of the story that has given me pause about whether to share. It’s personal and profound. I’m still wrapping my brain around it, although my heart has been certain of the impact from the first moment.

I’ve debated if this is the forum to discuss it. Although I deal with some heavier topics here occasionally, it’s the rare entry that I bring God into the discussion. My relationship with God and the Holy Spirit (aka “my little voice”) is a private and sacred one. I feel incredibly vulnerable discussing it in a one-way bloggy conversation. Yet the true essence of my mom’s heart surgery cannot be understood without acknowledging God.

So deep breath. Here we go.

The fullness of my Mom’s heart surgery was one of the most profoundly spiritual experiences of my life. Although I have gratefully felt the presence of the Holy Spirit enough times to know what it feels like and what those tears mean, it has always been in moments. It danced all around our trip to Israel several years ago, but it came and went as I literally walked on holy ground. The Spirit's presence was undeniable yet fleeting.

With Mom’s surgery, it was as if God boarded the plane with me in Portland and didn’t leave my side until I collapsed back at home a couple weeks later. I felt His presence in the hospital waiting room. He gave me a pep talk in the car. He spoke words of encouragement and direction as I stared at the book case in my parents’ guest room. He wrapped his arms around me in seat 3A despite the lack of legroom.

Mom’s third night at home – and the first one after Rob returned to Woodhaven – was a very rough night. The coughing was bad. My dad was having his own health issues due to the stress and worry of seeing his partner of over 50 years more vulnerable than she had ever been. Communication was strained, emotions were raw, exhaustion was rife.

That morning, through hidden tears, I sent a desperate text to three beloved friends. Friends whom I knew would understand my plea and would come to my rescue with all that they had. I asked them to pray.

Asking for prayers is a humbling thing. In some ways, more humbling than actually praying itself. It’s a public admittance that you need help, that you are NOT handling things well, that your own prayers feel inadequate. Asking for prayers requires giving the details, exposing the fears, dropping the veil that you are strong.

Within just a couple hours of surrendering to the hope and power of prayer, I saw its wonder unfold in my parents’ living room. The change was so complete and so dramatic, I could not reasonably conclude any other explanation. It wasn’t coincidence. It wasn’t merely the passage of time. It wasn’t just life. It was God. God answering the sincerest pleas for help and healing and guidance and perspective. I shouldn’t have been surprised and yet I was amazed and overwhelmed with awe and gratitude for His faithfulness to answer.

Mom’s first night in the hospital, right after surgery, was also apparently really rough. Perhaps one of the most terrifying nights of her life, although I’m not sure what thoughts haunted her when she was a 21-year-old young mother of a 2-year-old whose husband was fighting a war in Vietnam.

But this night, in Room 5 in the Cardiac ICU, Mom had intense, vivid, horrifying nightmares. Visions that she was the devil, visions that she pushed a button that ended the world, visions that caused her to tremble when describing them later.

But in the midst of those horrible nightmares, Mom saw a peaceful blond-haired man sitting on a bench off to the side. His hands were lightly folded in his lap. He was wearing a yellow sweatshirt. He didn’t say a word but his presence and purpose were clear to Mom. He exuded peace and comfort and safety amid the terror. She is certain he was God. And witnessing her telling the story with contented conviction, I believe her.

This was among some unexpectedly holy moments I had with my mom in the hospital.

A couple of times Mom asked to pray with me and Rob. A “circle prayer” she called it with surprising ease, reaching for our hands. I had never prayed with my mom before. Not even grace at the dinner table. God wasn’t a public part of my family growing up. Although Mom has had a relationship with God since her childhood, I didn’t invite Him into my life until I was 39. I’m not sure where my dad is on the God thing. So praying with my mom in the hospital was unexpected and unfamiliar and vulnerable and real and intimate and profound.

Several times after the nightmarish night – long after any traces of the medications that might have produced the visions were gone – my mom sobbed with gratitude for God’s comfort and presence. Her emotions so overwhelmed her, I fully expected nurses to rush in to see what was causing their monitors to go haywire.

Through Mom’s tears and heartfelt words of thankfulness, I witnessed true and complete worship for the first time. I attend a Quaker church; we are a sanctuary dominated by introverts. Our worship can be mighty but it is much more inward than demonstrative. Until this moment with my mom, I had never really seen someone completely submit themselves to God with gratitude and devotion.

It was a profound honor witness this intimate, unabashed expression of worship. The fact that it was my mom – not a friend or fellow church-goer -- still overwhelms me. It feels in a weird way that her letting me witness that moment was a gift, a gift of the magnitude that only a mother can give, like the gift of life.

Coincidentally – or actually not – Mom gave me the gift of showing me what true worship really looks like on Mother’s Day. Although they were not the best circumstances under which to be able to spend Mother’s Day with my mom, it could not have been more perfect a celebration of what it means to be hers…and His.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The good, the bad, and the gray

Early on I promised several people that I would blog the heck out of this “going gray” adventure. I’ve tried to hold to that promise while not hijacking my own blog with one repetitive topic (never mind about The Fair. 113 more days!). That being said, we’re going to talk hair again today. But I think we’re nearing the Silver Finish Line. WHOO!

The last time I wrote about my transition from “Truffle #50” to “I Think It’s Going to Be Awfully White,” I had just returned from visiting Rob’s family with my new super short pixie cut. Things were going pretty well.

Two months later, things are still progressing nicely but there sure has been some learning and insight along the way. I’ve been taking notes. Seriously. I have about a page and a half of them. I’m just that sort of dedicated blogger.

I’ve had two pixie cuts now. I’m pretty sure I’m done with them even though there have been some AMAZING benefits to having Boy Hair. Like, with very little hair to play with, I am done “doing my hair” in mere seconds.

When we were in the Caribbean a few weeks ago, it was incredible to get out of the ocean, dry my head with a towel, run my fingers through my hair to make sure I didn’t look like Alfalfa, and that’s it. No gel, no mirror, DONE. Boys have it so easy! No wonder they are mystified how we women folk spend so much time getting ready.

Wash and wear hair!

I’m still not doing much with my short hair, but I am looking forward to it growing out a bit. I don’t feel like my hair has much of a style at the moment. I’m not sure what style I’m aiming for, since my hair’s texture has already changed and I’m anticipating it will continue to surprise me as it gets longer.

For now, I’m thrilled with how soft my salt and pepper is and I’m happy to see it still has a fair amount of wave. In my coloring days, all my white, color-resistant hair pointed straight out like I had stuck my finger in a socket. With no color, I was a little concerned I might suddenly end up with the uber straight hair I once coveted in the ‘70s. So far, no Dorothy Hamill Wedge in my future. A collective sigh of relief.

I can tell by the hairs that land on my shirt or in the bathroom sink that I am not yet completely done with my transition. Although I think the biggest shock is over, there is still more white to come. Some light brown, almost blonde tips remain on a number of hair strands around my head. As I continue to get trims, things will likely get a bit whiter. I’m ready for it. I think. There’s still some stuff to learn, though.

As the dark frame around my face has become much lighter, it’s become clear that all the color rules I once knew for clothes and make-up need to be revamped. I used to wear green shirts with full knowledge that my hazel eyes would pop out of my head. Now, not so much. Oddly, blues and pewters are working better than they used to, as are strong pastels like turquoise and coral. I haven’t tried yellows or browns yet; my gut says those colors might be leaving my closet soon.

I have also noticed that I look better in solid or very minimal prints. With so much swirl of white and gray and black going on on my head – the head that used to be a rather uniform Truffley color -- busy prints on my shirts combined with a swarm of grayscale make me feel like a jumbled, chaotic mess of color and pattern. Clearly, I will be going wardrobe shopping in the near future. Ugh.

That's about the boldest print I can wear at the moment.
In other news, CORAL DINING ROOM!
"Love Boat" fans will understand

I’m not really much of a make-up person. Several years ago I actually had to ask a younger friend to teach me how to use eyeliner (I rightly suspected that the techniques I honed in the tubular ‘80s were no longer relevant or wise). So it’s been a surprise that I’ve recently found myself playing with darker lipsticks, darker eye shadows, and that I have ever so lightly put my toe in the very trendy water of Eye Brow Obsession.

My goal with all three cosmetic playgrounds is to try to add some contrast back. What used to be an olive-ish face with a dark brown frame is now sort of an unrestricted blend of pale. I’ll be stopping by a make-up counter soonish, as I’m still sort of clueless about what I’m doing. I also suspect new glasses frames are in my future. But I’m waiting to find out if I finally need bifocals first. Ah, 49.

I was surprised how much I liked my Hipster Glasses
with my silver hair.  I think slightly longer hair
will work better with them.

With all these changes, it’s been quite amusing that I am apparently unrecognizable. Early on after The Shocking Pixie, people at church stared right at me, confused who the visitor was. Other people have wondered who that woman looking so cozy with Rob is and if Toni knows about her. A couple of weeks ago, I ran into a friend’s ex-husband at a restaurant. Given how their marriage ended…and that he was on a date…I braced myself for a brief, awkward, uncomfortable conversation. I looked at him, smiled, and realized by the blank look on his face that he had no idea who the gray haired woman smiling at him was. It was quite lovely and such a relief. Hallelujah for being boldly incognito!

Overall I have received tons of support and encouragement for my new look. Just in the past few weeks, a number of friends have spontaneously told me … some even going out of their way to seek me out to share … how much they like my gray hair. A few women have said, “If I knew my hair would look like yours, I would have stopped coloring years ago.” That is a huge compliment right there. Perhaps the biggest compliment, though, is that four friends have now decided to join me in my Silverdom. Four friends including Patti, my hair stylist. I was blown away by the white streak in her hair the last time I saw her. I clearly have her sincere support.

Truly, that is part of why I decided to blog about this small but enormous change – to hopefully share some of the fears and triumphs and mysteries and joys of this surprisingly revealing path. And to perhaps encourage other women to consider going through the evolution themselves. A woman’s hair color shouldn’t really be that big of a deal. And it typically isn’t. Unless that color is gray. Then it’s a HUGE THING. Because women aren’t supposed to have gray hair. Unless they are really old. Thanks, society and beauty industry “standards.”

And that brings us to the not-so-awesome experiences of Going Gray.

I’ve had a few friends painfully live by the rule “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.” Those silences have been awkward.

More awkward, though, was the older woman who hadn’t seen me in several months. At first she didn’t recognize me with my silver hair. Then, barely taking a breath, she launched into an unprompted dissertation about how she liked my skin’s contrast with my dark hair much better, she couldn't imagine why I wanted to dye my hair gray (??), and that maybe I would decide on a whim to go back to dark brown since I looked much better that way. Oh, and I look younger with gray hair. Yes, gray hair not the dark brown. I was sort of left silently blinking at her, trying to process all that she was saying while at the same time concluding that apparently 81 is the age at which we get to speak our minds with abandon.

Perhaps the biggest stumble so far was about 6 weeks ago. I was in Walgreens, unaware that it was the first Tuesday of the month. I was at the register and had my head down as I was rifling through my purse for my wallet. As I poked around, I heard the older, silver-haired cashier ask, “And do you qualify for our Senior Discount today?”

I didn’t answer at first because surely she wasn’t talking to me. But then I realized that she was staring at the top of my head. My very gray head. I looked up and smiled and said, “I don’t think so. I’m 49?”

She focused on me in bewilderment, likely wondering how I could be younger than her, and then said, “Oh, I guess not.”

Naturally, I Googled when I got home and discovered that the first Tuesday of every month Walgreens offers a 20% discount for customers 55 and older. 55 and older?!? She thought I was 55?!? But wait. 20%?!?

Yeah, next time I’m totally saying yes.

I took this picture in the car in the Walgreens parking lot.
Then to make myself feel better, I ran it through that
fun "How Old Do I Look" app.
I quite like the app and its confidence-saving "Gray Hair Don't Care" algorithm.

Despite the negatives, I’m already finding there’s a remarkable freedom in no longer chasing the hair color of youth. There’s relief in not having to factor in a Color Date when anticipating large social events. There’s liberation in being outside on a windy day and not worrying if untamed roots are showing. There’s a cool sense of rebellion of admitting to the world that as a woman you are, in fact, getting older. Because, you know, everybody is.

But I’ve also disliked being the center of attention with my new hair color. If my hair were longer and I hadn’t gone the pixie route, this change would have been much more gradual. Instead, since the most shocking part of my transition happened in only four months, there are still lots of friends and family who haven’t seen me and don’t even know I’ve made this change. So I’m reluctantly learning to brace myself for stares and fumbled comments and excitement and questions…in short, attention…when different gatherings occur. Any introvert knows social gatherings can be enough work; attention at social gatherings is downright agonizing.

And so at those gatherings, with that attention, I am also learning to accept the positive and bat away the negative. Early on, I found my confidence and my resolve about my “embracing my age” decision rising on the encouragement and falling on the silence (or unabashed criticisms) of other people. I sincerely hated that. I hated feeling so whimmed and flakey. I feel much more confident now, but I sense there is still more growth to be had…both on my head and in my spirit.

Taken today without a black and white setting.  I'm rather
digging it!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wistful for vacation -- or even just sun

For the first time in our 13 years as Washingtonians, the gloomy weather is finally getting to me. I'm feeling suffocated by gray. And it's not my hair!

By many accounts -- including locals who have lived here their entire lives -- this winter has, frankly, sucked. The rainy season started early and it still hasn't ended. Everyone is cranky, it seems. I'm amongst the everyone.

According to a Portland weather stats guru, we have had a whopping 6 -- SIX -- clear days between October and March this year. We typically have 19. I am beginning to relate to this it-used-to-be-funny truth in the depths of my pale and sun-starved soul:


And so to try to drag my attitude out of the water-logged and mossy gutter, I am finally sorting through the copious photos I took on our recent Caribbean get-away.  The get-away that now seems so long ago and whose intended sunny attitude-boosting effects have already withered away with each passing day of drizzle and sweaters.

ACK! Infusion of sun, STAT!!

As promised, here are some hysterical and super fun photos from the underwater scooter adventure Rob and I did in Honduras. Thankfully, I've deemed the professional pics totally worth the extra bucks, as we had to buy them on faith without seeing any of photos first. My disposable underwater camera managed a few savable shots. I'm still amazed that developing the film (only one chain in our county develops film anymore -- in Arizona!) cost more than the camera itself.

Each of the scooters had a buoy on it so the boat crew could
keep track of us.  From above, it was hysterical to see all
these orange floaties zipping through the ocean!

Rob in a sea of bubbles!

We're coming for ya, fishies!

This might appear on our Christmas card this year.

One of my most favorite photos of the two of us EVER!

While we were in Belize, we took an airboat ride. Rob claims this takes the place of us riding one in the Florida Everglades someday. I'm not so sure. It was awfully relaxing!

It sure looks like we all got right off a cruise ship, doesn't it?

We were told we needed to put our arms in the air to help
steer to boat. I'm not sure how true that is but it sure was fun!

At the small port in Belize, there are several colorful signs begging for tourist photo ops. Piglet and I dutifully got in the make-shift line. As we were waiting our turn, I noticed two other people covertly holding stuffed animals, ready to dash to the sign and hope nobody snickered too loudly as they posed for photos.  After nearly 27 years of Travels with Piglet, I knew the tells.

I held up Piglet to the woman with the two bears,  "You, too??" I asked.

And then to the young guy looking highly embarrassed holding a larger bear, "You are one of us, too?"

Without any explanations, just nods and smiles of tribal recognition, we gathered at the sign for a group photo. Our photographers worked quickly.  Without words, we disbursed with the knowledge that we all might be quirky but we are not alone in our quirkitude.

Just going on a hunch that Piglet has been at this a bit longer
than the three bears.

Our day in Cozumel was actually spent on the mainland at some Mayan ruins. It was an all-day excursion that involved a ferry ride, a bus ride, and a fair amount of walking. Then a beach club for a late lunch and some water frolicking if we were so inclined (after seeing the changing rooms, we weren't).

We knew it was going to be a long day but we both panicked a little when we noticed this admonition on our tour tickets:

We have taken a fair number of cruises and a fair number of tours and we have never been instructed to EAT HUGE BREAKFAST.

We are not typically breakfast eaters. And we had already heard the warnings about not taking any "foodstuffs" off the ship into Mexico, dashing our plans to raid the buffet for croissants and bananas on our way out.

This was the best we could muster:

We ended up surviving the day, despite the cold spaghetti and watery beer provided for lunch (see prior blog entry).

The ruins and the resident iguanas provided some nice photo ops.

Our relaxing time at the "private beach club" was sort of disappointing. Private just meant people had paid to use it, not private to the tour bus. So it was crowded and noisy with lots of tourists beyond the cruise ship tour.

By the time we had finished lunch, there were no shady lounge chairs left. Rob and I decided to forego changing into our swimsuits and instead just sort of looked at the water and listened to a guy from Wisconsin talk about the great deep dish pizza in Chicago.

Trying to use up the film in our underwater camera. Sort of
has a vintage, grainy look.

Now that we've been home for awhile and my sunburn has long peeled away, we have officially concluded that our trip to the sun was far too short and waaay too far away. We had a great time but we needed more given the winter we had...and are still having. Big, heavy sigh.

Sunset in Honduras.  I love sunsets.  Largely because they mean
the sun came out.

Friday, March 24, 2017

I like da hot stuff, mon!

It’s the final day of our Western Caribbean cruise. We are “At Sea” heading back to Fort Lauderdale for our flight home tomorrow morning. Boo and hiss.

As is always seemingly my way on the last day of cruising, I have been busying myself perusing catalogs for future ocean jaunts. Today I am dreaming of British Isles itineraries or perhaps spending my 50th birthday next year on a ship heading to Cape Horn and the Strait of Magellan. Rob says he’s not a big fan of potentially visiting South America. Thus I have several months to convince him of the wonders of Chilean wine and Argentinean beef. Yes, with me…as with cruising…it’s often all about the eating.

Sadly, truth be told, I haven’t been wowed by the food on this trip. Our excursion in the Yucatan Peninsula yesterday included an underwhelming Mexican buffet lunch that featured cold spaghetti. Seriously?? Spaghetti? In Mexico? At a tourist stop? What’s wrong with tacos? Don’t even get me started on the cold part. Sheesh!

I boycotted the pasta and instead tried ceviche for the first time. Although our tour guide, Carlos, said it was fantastic, I quietly concluded it was sort of boring. I always thought ceviche was a type fish, like tilapia or mahi mahi or something else aquatic with a lot of vowels. Turns out ceviche is pico de gallo (salsa) with white, mostly flavorless fish chunks thrown in that look suspiciously like large pieces of onions. I wonder if I’ve actually had ceviche before and just thought I was enjoying a very oniony salsa?

A couple of days ago I also ventured out beyond the Tourism Village in Belize City to try some authentic rice and beans that our Creole tour guide recommended. I typically find rice and beans to be pretty bland and reserve my stomach space for other more intriguing options. But Miss Patty’s rice and beans were absolutely the tastiest I’ve ever had.

Best I can tell, Miss Patty cooks her selections of rice (regular or vegetarian), meat (chicken or fish), and potato salad from scratch every morning. Her kitchen consists of one cook top and 5 large cast iron pots. The folks ordering from her small take-out window were all locals, most with name tags from the neighboring stores catering to people who look a lot like me with my fresh sunburns, athletic shoes, and wallets stuffed with American dollars.

Standing carefully on the worn but sturdy wooden pallet, I placed my order for regular rice and beans with chicken. Miss Patty seemed happily shy when I asked if I could take her picture. Then, being a smart business woman, she recommended I also make sure to get a picture of her sign (which wasn’t a great picture well since I really wanted a photo of her not her sign).

The rice was made with coconut milk; I think that was the difference in both the taste and texture that made Miss Patty’s concoction so much better than any prior version I’ve sampled. My lunch livened up even more with the Fiery Hot Habanero sauce that was provided on the picnic table.

The local woman sharing the table with us warned me that the locally made condiment was spicy hot. Rob explained I hold the heat record at a Thai restaurant at home (45 stars of heat out of the 4 stars they offer on their menu). The woman sized me up, looked unconvinced, shrugged her shoulders in a “I tried to warn you” way, and went back to her lunch.

I typically don’t like Habanero sauces; they are usually all heat and no flavor. This one, though (Marie Sharps – I bought a bottle as my Belizean souvenir), was the perfect blend of heat and sweet pepper deliciousness. I shook a half-dozen drops on my rice to sample it and then returned to the bottle several times during my lunch. It, like the rice and beans, was the best version I’d ever had. Yay international food adventures!

I have to admit, I’m pretty proud of what happened next.

As I was finishing up my rice and beans, a very local, very dark, very dreadlocked man came over to the table to talk to our neighbor. When he was done, he turned to me with dark, relaxed eyes and said, “She like da hot stuff!” He explained with appreciative nods and the most awesome respect and surprise that he had been watching me douse my rice and beans with Maggie Sharp. Getting props from a local Belizean for my heat tolerance pretty much made up for not seeing any crocodiles on our airboat ride earlier in the day.

So yes, airboat ride in Belize and then an all-day tour to see some Mayan ruins sort of near Cancun, Mexico rounded out our excursions for this trip. The airboat was relaxing and the fast breeze was extraordinarily welcomed in the heat and humidity.

The Mayan ruins were surprisingly interesting. Turns out I knew next to nothing about the Mayan culture other than that the Mayans sort of died out (not completely true) and they predicted the end of the world a few years ago (not at all true once you understand their calendar-making history).

Thanks to a free drink ticket with our spaghetti lunch, I also decided I shall be scouring Hispanic markets at home for a bottled drink called PeƱafiel Limonada (it’s sparkling lemonade), and that the local beer called Sol tastes like college. I also could not comprehend that it was legal for me to sample the cheap, watery memory on the tour bus. While we were driving. With my container of alcohol opened and everything. Despite Carlos’s assurances neither of us would get arrested, I still felt like I had to take clandestine sips of the swill. Please note: I did not finish it.

We will be home late tomorrow, a bit more sunburned and a bit less relaxed than hoped. Rob’s tooth chipped a few days ago, so that has been distracting. And I’ve determined that 5 full days on a cruise ship doesn’t lend itself to quite as much downtime as my mind and body need. With lots of floors to explore and stairs to climb and restaurants to sample and excursions to go on, I feel like today I am finally ready to begin doing nothing.

And instead it is time to pack.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Touring the Caribbean like a BOSS

One night, back in January when we were iced in for a week or so, Rob and I planned our annual “Let’s Find the Sun” trip. It’s a promise we made to ourselves when we decided to move from not-quite-perpetually-sunny-but-close-enough California to the not-quite-perpetually-rainy-but-close-enough Pacific Northwest. The promise to have a planned escape every year to some place warm, sunny, and mostly dry.

So last January, when we were a little punchy from all the snow and ice, we decided to book this year’s LFTST. One of us might have been sipping a snowgarita at the time. It made immense sense then…and thankfully also the next morning…when we declared this year’s escape to be to the Western Caribbean. Via cruise ship. Because it sounded perfectly glorious.

We’ve been on the Caribbean Princess for a few days now. We still have a few days to go. I’m currently wearing a slightly damp swim suit, no make-up, and the tops of both of my feet are slightly sunburned despite what I thought was more than adequate applications of SPF 30. In other words, a perfect vacation so far.

I’m elated and grateful to report that my new ACL is handling my cruising “no elevator rule” like a champ. It even successfully managed a few flights of stairs last night in some substantial heels for Formal Night before I conceded to the wisdom of not pushing things (Formal Night is the only exception I allow to the NER in which I ride in the electrical box with other woman wearing non-sensible shoes).

A couple of nights ago, Rob and I proved ourselves to officially be Smarter Than A Crew Member with a 20 question trivia game. We have a ribbon-festooned bottle of champagne to prove it. Truth be told, Rob could have won by himself; I would have come in second place. He knows his currencies better than I do, although neither of us knows birthstones very well. My biggest contribution was the absolute certainty of the year the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. One of those indelible memories from my senior year of high school (1986).

Last night I convinced Rob we should attend the highlight entertainment event for the cruise – a stage production called “Piano Man.” It consisted of very young and mostly synchronized dancers belting out the greatest hits of Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, and Elton John. It immediately struck me and my gray hair that I could not compare childhood or adolescent memories of the songs with any of the whipper snappers performing them. I wondered with a sigh if any of them knew the songs before they were handed the music.

I also now have a much richer and deeper appreciation for the magic and wonder of Elton John’s voice. Hearing it butchered by well-intentioned Millennials nearly drove me in search of Isaac’s rum punch at the Pirate’s Cove Bar.

Today was our first port of play. We spent the day in Honduras. Specifically in the warm turquoise waters off the Island of Roatan. I was honestly a little surprised at first that Honduras is a tourist destination. I remember thinking it was a pretty scary place when I was a kid in the 1980s.

But scary no more! Especially since we signed up for an excursion that just looked too hysterical and goofy to pass up. Rest assured, I will have pictures of us to share as soon as we get home but for now, feast your eyes on this novel way to explore pretty fishies and coral and other underwater Caribbean life:

Yes, those are underwater motor scooters complete with cartoon-inspired bubble helmets!! And they were a BLAST!!

(Note: BOSS = Breathing Observation Submersible Scooter ™)

All the instructions seemed easy enough, until I forgot every single one of them due to the enchantment of riding a scooter through the ocean. I had to take two tries to get my head in the bubble, and it took some patience to get my ears to pop appropriately as I descended. But once I was set, I couldn’t stop smiling. I kept looking at Rob in his bubble and could only imagine how ridiculously fun I looked in mine.

Once our group of 10 was mounted and breathing without ear pain, we were given the signal to start following our dive master who was SCUBAing in front of us. As soon as I pushed the little throttle button on my BOSS scooter, I laughed so loud my entire bubble echoed. I am pretty sure I scared some fish. Motoring around in the ocean was so dang hysterical, I just kept laughing and sort of forgot I was supposed to be looking at fish and coral and stuff.

Instead, I kept steering left and right in search of Rob so I could try to take his picture with my disposable underwater camera. We had been warned that the bubbles would distort proportions. Indeed, Rob’s body looked large and his head looked small. Cue more laughing. He was SO ADORABLE!

We propelled around a reef for about a half hour. Apparently there was a big manta ray in the distance but I never saw it. I had to settle for seeing a baby stingray skimming the water next to the pier as we were later walking back to the ship. That was still pretty darn cool. We also got to snorkel for about an hour. I got to see all sorts of fishies that don’t live in Kauai and I proudly managed the entire water excursion without even a hint of hyperventilating. Maybe my water phobia days are finally behind me?

Tomorrow we are either whetting an appetite for a future, dedicated trip OR we are crossing a destination off my Travel Wish List. Either way, we will be in Belize…soaking up more glorious sun and hopefully not adding to my sunburn.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Life lessons from the disco

A public figure I follow on Facebook recently posed the question “What movie traumatized you as a kid?” She is in her 40s and still harbors a bird phobia that she traces to watching Hitchcock’s “The Birds” way back when.

Scrolling through the couple hundred replies, many folks were suitably traumatized by horror flicks such as “Poltergeist” and “The Shining” and “Jaws.” Others still remember the emotional scars from watching “Old Yeller” and “Where the Red Fern Grows” (yeah, that was the first time I remember crying due to a movie’s story line. I was 5 and so very sad about those doggies!). One of the more popular answers was “The Wizard of Oz” – the flying monkeys in particular.

No surprise, my answer is nowhere to be found.

“Saturday Night Fever” for childhood trauma, anyone?

It was 1978. I was in the 4th grade, 10 years old. The Bee Gees were all over the radio, white leisure suits were all the rage, and Welcome Back Kotter’s Vinnie Barbarino was on the big screen. It was heady times.

As kids do, there was LOTS of talk on the playground about the movie. Girls debated which Bee Gee was the cutest (Barry, duh) and many…especially the popular ones…spoke as if they had seen the movie their very own selves. It was R-rated so I was highly impressed and mightily dumbfounded that their parents had allowed the underaged viewing. Ah, the mysterious life of The Popular Girls.

More and more, it was obvious that I was the only kid in my class who hadn’t seen “Saturday Night Fever.” Oh, the ostracization.

Meanwhile, I had my eye on some very trendy sandals. They were tan with spongey soles and the closest thing to a platform shoe that a grade-schooler could wear. Many girls at my school had the fancy-brand version. I spied some knockoffs at Thom McAn that I thought might be close enough to fly under the radar of the Brand Name Police.

Bowing under the suffocating weight of being desperate to fit in (I never truly did fit in, for which I am now grateful), I begged my parents for both Golden Tickets to 4th grade girl acceptance: I HAD to see “Saturday Night Fever” and I NEEDED those sandals.

Now, most parents would have probably said no to both before reminding me I needed to clean my room. However, my parents were slyly teaching me how to make decisions so this was yet another opportunity for education. The choice was simple: they would buy me the sandals OR they would accompany me to the movie. Only one. My choice. And no arguing or pleading after my decision was made.

I suspect Mom and Dad were certain I would pick the sandals. I mean, really – a fleeting 2 hours in a movie theater versus months of fashion-forward footwear? Duh!


Off to the theater we went.

I don’t remember getting any strange looks as my dad bought the tickets for the three of us to see my first R-rated movie. But I do remember being the only kid in a single-digit grade in the theater. And I remember – vividly – being seated in the middle: Mom on one side, Dad on the other.

The music was awesome and familiar. The dancing was magical and intoxicating. The clingy disco fashions were so sophisticated.

But the potty-mouth language shocked me and made me squirm. The packet of birth control pills confused me and made me wish I hadn’t whispered to my mom for explanation. And Tony Manero was not Vinnie Barbarino…AT ALL.

However, it was sitting between my parents and suffering through the unbearable awkwardness of the sex-in-the-back-of-the-car scene that left the most traumatic scar.

John Travolta may have been stayin’ alive but I WANTED TO DIE! I desperately wanted to flee the theater. I was certain my parents sat me in the middle to trap me, to make me endure the torture of my bad decision. The sandals. The beautiful sandals. Dear God, why didn’t I pick the sandals?!?

I was beyond relieved when the credits finally rolled. I had hated the movie and the experience of seeing it. But at least…AT LEAST…I was no longer the only kid in the class who hadn’t seen it. I couldn’t wait to get to school and discuss the movie with confidence.

Ready to defend my Siskel & Ebert THUMBS DOWN review with passion and conviction, I was flabbergasted to discover not a single kid in my class had actually seen “Saturday Night Fever.” As I referenced scenes and dialog, I got blank stares and silence.

One of the popular girls sneered at my confusion and reprimanded, “Toni, it’s rated R. We’re not allowed to see it. It’s, like, illegal or something. Gawd.”

In that moment, I learned a lot more than my parents probably expected when they gave me the Movie or Sandals choice.

I learned that braggy kids are often liars. I learned that peer pressure is stupid. I learned that I was never going to be able to please the Popular Girls so it was probably dumb to keep trying. I learned that R-rated movies are gross. And I learned how to accept the disappointment of a bad decision…reinforced every time I longingly walked by the Thom McAn window.

So, traumatic for a 10-year-old, yes. But probably one of the most important life lessons I learned in 4th grade. Well, that and my multiplication tables (thank you, Mr. Magid).

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Calico no more

The past week has been filled with shock, excitement, doubt, acceptance, confusion, and reflection. Yes, we are once again talking about hair.

I got my second notable haircut of the Going Gray Adventure last week. Patti and I discussed all sorts of options about what next to do with my calico hair. Typically I wouldn’t have been sitting in her chair quite so soon. I’m hoping that I might be able to counter the chaos of my technicolor hair by having a controlled, more maintained hair style. So every four weeks it is. At least for now.

I told Patti I was pretty sure I didn’t want to do a super short pixie cut to hasten the adventure. I accidentally had one of those when I asked Rob to cut my hair. It was about 15 years ago and I was post-op enough after a back surgery to need a haircut but not post-op enough to be able to withstand the spinal torture of leaning back in the shampoo bowl and sitting for more than 15 minutes.

I was certain Rob would do a fine job, as my beloved roommate Zeke – a History major with no cosmetology education – had fabulously cut my hair numerous times in college.

However, as I emerged from Mr. Rob’s Coif and Cut looking like GI Jane, I immediately had newfound respect and admiration for Zeke’s innate clipper skills. I also discovered that my head is unattractively asymmetrical. I wore a baseball hat for three months.

So fearing a repeat of that memorable hair don’t, I told Patti she could do whatever she wanted with my hair except for a pixie cut.

Guess what I have?

I had no idea that dark patch was in the back.
It's also interesting that my natural color is
so much darker than my Truffle.

It’s not Patti’s fault. As she started scissoring away chunks of Garnier Truffle #50, we both got rather excited about the emerging silvers and whites. I told her to keep going and before I was really ready, I was staring at a version of myself I have never seen before. One week later, I’m still not very used to her.

Thankfully I don't have exceptionally
pointy ears.

Yep, no hiding it now!

Admittedly, the cut is better than Mr. Rob’s version 15 years ago. Something about training and licensing. But it’s still waaaay shorter and waaaaay grayer than I’m accustomed to seeing surrounding my face.

The wisps of Truffle left on the tips will probably be gone in 3 more weeks.
In other news, we look like we match now!  

I’ve taken my look out on tour. The day after I saw Patti, I got on a plane and spent almost a week surprising Rob’s family. To be honest, I was a bit nervous. Los Angeles is not a culture that heartily embraces women aging, gracefully or otherwise. And I always feel less primped and coiffed and pulled together when I’m surrounded by SoCal women who have a lot more knowledge and investment in appearance-type concerns.

I only caught a couple of stares from sun-kissed strangers. Who knows, maybe I just had some Double Double caught in my teeth and my hair wasn’t even noticed.

Gratefully, I got a number of very kind hair comments and supportive smiles from family and friends…after the shock wore off. My mother-in-law, bless her, even seemed disappointed towards the end of our visit when I said I plan to grow my hair out and not keep the pixie. With love, she told me I looked elfish and gamine (I had to Google it), referencing Audrey Hepburn. That was a benevolent stretch but still filled me with appreciation for her kind encouragement.

I also found myself feeling more attractive and feminine with my contacts instead of my glasses. Unfortunately, that also meant I had trouble reading menus and texts and hotel bills since I really need bifocals and it seemed ill advised to take my contacts out and put them on the top of my head while reading something up close. Today I’m back to glasses. Because, well, typing.

Having been home for a few days, I’m starting to get used to that look of wide-eyed, I-don’t-know-what-to-say, I’m-not-sure-I-like-it look on friends’ faces when they first see me. One of the kids in Youth Group last night expertly summed it up by exclaiming, “I didn’t expect it to be SO WHITE!”

I have moments when I’m totally digging the new look and feeling sassy and am totally embracing being my own penguin.

My parents bought me this print when I was in high school.
Its caption says "Dare to be Different."
I've tried my best to live up to it.

I love the excitement of this week-by-week evolution that at times has felt something like a caterpillar emerging into a butterfly.

But there are other moments when I am utterly mystified by the caught reflection in a window or a tablet screen. I see this person with short white hair and I don’t know who she is. But then I look at photos of myself from just a few months ago and all I see is synthetically dark brown hair that doesn’t seem to fit either.

I wasn’t bargaining for an identity crisis when I started this little adventure! But I’m starting to think that’s a foundational part of this experience…examining and defining who I really am on the doorstep of 50.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Precheck this out!

I love to travel. Big cities, national parks, same time zone, across oceans. All of it. As I saw it, business trips were one of the biggest perks of my work life (Venezuela and Vietnam, anyone?). And although it took a few years and some compromises along the way, I am grateful that Rob seems to enjoy the suitcase life with some frequency, too. Especially since my chronic back issues make it very tricky to travel without a Sherpa.

We have something of a travel dance, Rob and I. Without much clarification or discussion, we know who is in charge of the reservation confirmations, boarding passes, and making sure all medications and electronics are packed. And we know who is in charge of wrangling the suitcases and figuring out how to get where we are going. We know which one of us gets the window seat and which one of us produces the credit card at reservation desks.

Things get really tricky…and rather painful…if I try to dance alone.

Thanks to some back issues, I shouldn’t lift anything heavier than 15 pounds. So getting suitcases on and off of shuttles and baggage carousels (I had to give up carry-ons when I gave up two discs in my lumbar region) and in and out of rental cars and up onto hotel suitcase stands is painful and potentially dangerous.

Getting through security is also tricky by myself since I’m a bit slow to put on my shoes and gather my special travel pillow and rearrange my coat and purse and anything else I have to untangle from. It’s always much easier when I have Rob keeping an eye on things as I pull myself back together amongst the metal detectors and plastic bins.

A little over a year ago, around Christmas, I flew south by myself for a Girls Weekend with a friend. I was super excited but also a little nervous. We had had a very busy month already with travel and houseguests and I was a little wiped out. The idea of navigating security and travel without my dance partner was verging on being overwhelming.

Exhausted and very much out of my attention-to-detail character, I didn’t notice until I approached the TSA line that my boarding pass contained the glorious code words “TSA PRE” printed above my name.

I had been randomly bestowed the "TSA Precheck" gift a few times before. It’s a beautiful designation that means you are pre-approved as a safe traveler and therefore do not need to perform a strip tease for the TSA agents.

Shoes, jackets, belts, watches…all of that can be worn as you strut your specially approved self through the metal detectors. That plastic baggie stuffed with lotion and hand sanitizer and other critical but limited liquids? Keep it tucked in your bag. No need to produce it for a show and tell for the agents and all the looky-loos in line with you. It’s like traveling pre-9/11 style. And it is awesome.

So back to the Girls Weekend.

As it dawned on me in the TSA line that I didn’t have to balance and bend to take off my shoes and I didn’t have to keep track of my back pillow AND my purse AND my jacket AND my baggie…that instead I could just put my purse and pillow on the conveyor belt and saunter through the detector…I almost burst into tears with gratitude. Meaning my eyes teared up but I didn’t sob and I sagely resisted the urge to hug every TSA agent in sight.

After waving to Rob from the other side of security, I texted him and suggested Santa might consider bringing me guaranteed TSA Precheck status for Christmas.

Less than two months later, it was so. Bless you, Santa Rob!

Thanks to a super easy online application process, a background check, some fingerprinting, some unflattering photos, and gleefully snagging some cancelled appointments at the airport, Rob and I have both been Known Travelers for a little over a year. For $85 each, we get to zip through security as many times as we want over five years. Because we paid a little extra ($15) for something called Global Entry, rumor has it US Customs will be much faster, too. With any luck, we’ll get to confirm that in the next year or so.

I’ve tested out my new flight status four times so far. All I have to do is enter my treat-me-special Known Traveler Number in my airline reservations. I’m still learning to trust that the system actually works so it remains a celebratory relief every time I verify “TSA PRE” is indeed printed on my boarding pass. So far it’s worked every time.

I’m also still getting used to the short line and the head spinning speed with which I whip through security now. On my last trip just a few weeks ago, I seriously think it took me less than two minutes from the time I was handing my driver’s license to the TSA guy to when I was heading to the nearest water fountain to fill my empty bottle. TWO MINUTES?!? All without having to disrobe or unpack. Inconceivable!

Given my physical limitations, I actually think this TSA Precheck thing is a steal even if I only flew two times per year. Over five years, it would be $20 per year or less. I would not blink at paying $10 extra to be able to bypass the long line and keep my shoes on. Have I mentioned the shoes? And how achy it is to take them off and put them on with a cranky back? Keep your grande decaf mocha and yogurt parfait, Starbucks. I wanna keep my shoes on!

We have a couple of trips planned over the next several months. I gotta admit, part of my jazzed, bouncy travel excitement is anticipating the wonders of TSA PRE and all that extra time I can spend at airports perusing magazines and gum options.

On our first flight last year using our TSA Precheck status.
One of us is slightly more ecstatic than the other.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Embracing the gray underneath

Well, it’s been about 3.5 months since I boldly proclaimed that my days of coloring my hair were soon coming to an end (see Gray Matters post).

At the time I wasn’t sure exactly when I was going to ditch The Box. But once I said it aloud (or, rather, in writing), I found myself getting sort of excited by the idea of finding out what actual hair color lurks under my Garnier #50 Truffle helmet.

For a variety of reasons including tightwadiness (I still had two Truffle boxes from that sale several months ago) and vanity (our anniversary is in early December and I wanted to look good for our annual photo), I decided that my last dye job would be right before Thanksgiving. Specifically November 22, 2016 – two months ago today -- I did this for the very last time:

Yes, that is blue painters tape.  It works great for
keeping Truffle off your face.

I also threw away the old yellow terry cloth robe with the Truffle-stained collar that I have worn for years while waiting for the 30 minute timer to ding. Although my commitment to be done dying my hair was rather strong, I will admit I promised myself I could get a new Hair Coloring Robe at Goodwill if my resolve caved.

It’s been an intriguing few months, learning just how many brain cells I have been unwittingly dedicating to my hair color and chasing that gray root line.

I was first aware of my addiction when I received a bridal shower invitation for December 30. You know bridal showers? Where women get gussied up and pay extra attention to their make-up and get a manicure in preparation? Where women do their best to look their best for each other?

My first thought when I got the invitation was wondering, out of habit, where I would be in my hair color cycle and if I would need to plan a date with Truffle on the 29th. Then remembering I had broken up with Truffle, I panicked that I would be attending a bridal shower with who knows how many stray and unkempt gray hair strands screaming from my temples and part line.

In a moment of vanity and insecurity that surprised me, I briefly debated ditching the Going Gray experiment for the bridal shower and resuming in January. But I quickly realized if I did that, I would always be chasing the Right Time, waiting for those perfect 30-90 days in which I didn’t have to make any important public appearances. Like bridal showers or concerts or birthday parties or vacations or dentist appointments.

And so I resisted The Box. I attended the lovely bridal shower with gray hairs peeking through, desperately resisting the urge to explain in each conversation that I was not coloring my hair on purpose. Mind you, none of the conversations had anything to do with hair and I sensed absolutely no judgment or even recognition from the women there that my lack of color upkeep was an issue. But it sure surprised me how self-conscious I was about my hair. I didn’t like it.

That’s been the worst part of the past 60 days – feeling so dang self-conscious. With just enough gray showing that it was noticeable, but not enough that it was obvious that I was letting it grow on purpose, I felt like I looked lazy and tired. That maybe I had given up on my appearance and just didn’t care anymore. That I might as well be wearing my penguin pajama pants and llama t-shirt and orthotic Crocs, regardless if I was at Walmart or not.

I tried to pre-empt this angst by making my “going gray” intentions as public as possible. I rambled about it here, I announced it on Facebook, and I’ve mentioned it in any number of conversations with friends and family. I even told the kids in our Youth Group because, you know, teenagers care about hair, right? And that has helped ease the apprehension. Until a few days ago.

That’s when I got my second haircut of this grand adventure and when I got my first real peek at the silvers lurking under all this Truffle.

My hair stylist, Patti, is fantastic. She is 100% behind my decision to go gray and to do it cold turkey. She hasn’t tried to talk me out of it even though it could mean more money in her pocket if she did (highlights, lowlights, glazes, so many ways NOT to embrace my natural hair!). Judging from a Facebook group of women who are “Going Gray and Lovin’ It!” (I swear, there is a support group for everything), Patti is pretty unique in her support.

As Patti was clipping away a few days ago and oohing and ahhing, I was getting pretty excited about what she was unearthing. I had my glasses off and am pretty blind without them, so I was jazzed but unprepared for what greeted me in the mirror when I could finally see.

With silver sides and back and a Truffle top, the mishmash of colors was rather shocking. I just stared at myself in the mirror when I got to the car, determined not to cry. I felt like a calico cat and sort of wanted to just slink home with my tail between my legs even though I had planned to run some errands.

I was surprised by how insecure I suddenly was just because of my hair. Good grief, I’m staring 49 right between the eyes! I'm going to be brought down by hair? Really?

I gave myself a little pep talk. I know I am so much more than my hair. Unlike junior high – the last time I felt so annoyingly insecure about my appearance – I decided to embrace the weirdness and the discomfort and the self-consciousness and take my calico hair out for a public viewing.

And it was just fine.

Nobody cared about my hair at Kohl’s. Nobody cared about my hair at Jamba Juice. Nobody cared about my hair at Albertsons. The car wash attendant couldn’t have cared less about my hair. And the heavily primped greeters at Ulta did not direct me to the hair dye aisle as I feared they might. Exactly like junior high, the only person who was so acutely aware and judgmental of my appearance was me.

Feeling less slinky and more confident, I called out to Rob when I got home.

“My hair is a bit dramatic. Are you ready?”

When he opened his eyes as I stood in front of him, I searched his face for words he wasn’t yet speaking.

“It looks uniquely sophisticated. I like it. The cut AND the color. Both.”

Rob has trained me over the years that he will tell me the truth when I ask how something looks on me. If those pants make me look fat, believe you me he will tell me. As difficult as that can be at times, at other times…like this one…it is a huge gift to know that Rob is telling me his truth.

Feeling even more confident, I played with my new hair a bit, added the new lipstick I had bought just hours prior (retail therapy, anyone?), and posted this picture on the Going Gray Facebook page:

The page is an incredibly supportive, encouraging group of over 6,000 women all over the world. The common thread is we are all striving to embrace our natural hair color. The women share stories of wonderful support as well as terribly disheartening words from people in their lives who warn they are going to look old and tired if they stop coloring their hair. They provide tips on shampoo and make-up and glasses frames. And they share pictures of before, during, and after to take some of the scary mystery away. Scanning the photos for the past few months has shown me how utterly striking gray hair can be…even when it is growing out.

Within minutes of sharing my photo, a remarkable bath of warm words, kindness, compliments, and support was being poured over me. The reassurance, the love, the kindred friendship of women I do not even know was overwhelming and bolstering. The calico cat was suddenly feeling slinky in a whole new way.

So yesterday I walked around in public with confidence and even discovered that my silver hair now makes my black rain hat much more interesting.

I sort of wanted to find a flapper dress
to wear with the hat.  That never
occurred to me with Truffle hair.

I am also recognizing the importance of lipstick in making me feel pulled together while also brightening up my face a bit with its new silver frame.

Before "Wear on Wildberry" and after

Patti thinks my transition might be complete in just two more haircuts. This is incredibly fast, thanks to my hair growing quickly and my short style. Much to my surprise, now that I’m past that “does she know she needs to color her hair??” stage and have gotten past the shock, I’m actually really digging this weird palette of colors on my head. What had once been a bit of fear and trepidation about the hairy road ahead is now all excitement and anticipation.

Goodwill can keep its robes.